We’ve taken your questions from the comments section of the recent budget survey, as well as from the Feb. 15 community conversation and compiled some of the most frequently asked questions about the 2017-18 proposed budget and education issues in general.
Q: The “found” $6.3 million – why hasn’t the public
been given a full report?
A: Recent "Opinion" statements in the Altamont Enterprise have referenced a $6.3 million gain discovered by the auditors last June.
The $6.3 million gain referred to by the authors of the letters can be found on page 17 of the district’s audited financial statements for the period ending June 30, 2016. That particular page shows the change in net position. Net position is computed by taking an organization’s assets (what the organization has or is owed) and subtracting its liabilities (what the organization owes to others) over time. A parallel example is net worth for an individual. For example, the value of a home and a car would be considered assets while the balance owed on a home mortgage or a car loan would be considered liabilities with the difference between the two being net worth. Net worth is a much different concept than an individual’s annual income and expenses and the difference between those at the end of the year.
A more accurate picture of the
district’s current financial condition can be found in the Statement of
Revenues, Expenditures, and Changes in Fund Balances on page 16 of the audit
report. This page reflects current year operations and current resources.
The General Fund contains the revenues and expenses that fund the annual
operations of the school district. The General Fund is also the fund that
reflects the voter approved budget.
In 2015-16, General Fund revenues exceeded expenditures by $3,175,249, which is just under 3.3% of the overall budget. Each fiscal year, beginning with January, the board of education receives and approves a monthly report estimating current year revenues and expenditures as compared to budget. The report then projects the ending year fund balance. For example, the May report projected a $2.4 million surplus and that projection was increased to $3.1 million on the June report. The anticipated surplus was realized and reported to the board of education and the community well before the auditors started their work over the summer.
The board of education received a summary of the variances from budgeted revenues and expenditures in advance of the August 16 board meeting and a more detailed explanation prior to the September 13 meeting. The change in fund balance was reviewed and discussed during the acceptance of the independent audit report on October 18 as well.
In summary, a number of
factors resulted in savings:
• the unanticipated, unusually mild winter last year resulted in savings on energy costs for natural gas and electricity,
• a sharp decline in gas and diesel prices contributed to significant savings for the district’s bus fleet,
• a shift in BOCES program placements for students with disabilities and a lesser need for support services led to savings,
• staff retirements and turnover led to lesser salary expenses than expected,
• increased state aid was realized by purchasing technology devices funded by our recent capital construction project through BOCES,
• and additional state aid from prior years pertaining to summer special education programs was released to the school district during last year.
Q: Why is there going to be a 2.7% tax increase
imposed with this money found?
A: The amount of the tax levy increase needed to fund the 2017-18 budget has yet to be determined. The 2.7% figure is the maximum that the tax levy (the amount of tax revenue needed to fund the budget) could increase by, which would require a simple majority of greater than 50% of voters voting “yes” for a passed budget. If the proposed tax levy were to exceed 2.7%, a supermajority of greater than 60% of the voters voting “yes” would be required for a passed budget. The board of education will adopt a budget on April 11 that will establish the amount of the tax levy increase.
Q: Inclusion has been unsuccessful. What is being
done to change that? Course instruction is being weakened and students and
teachers are frustrated.
A: The conclusion that “inclusion has been unsuccessful” is not reflective of the progress made to ensure that all learners are supported in their centers for learning – the classroom. Students with disabilities maintain legal and civil rights to be educated in Least Restrictive Environments (LREs). That means that placement of students with disabilities in the LRE shall:
• provide the special education needed by the student;
• provide for education of the student to the maximum extent appropriate with other students who do not have disabilities; and
• be as close as possible to the student's home.
Including students with disabilities in general education classes is not new in Guilderland. For many decades, heterogeneous classes have been a hallmark practice. Such commitments are reflective of findings from decades of research which have clearly concluded that tracking of students by ability or achievement is a harmful, inequitable and an unsupportable practice. In cases where tracking had become established, student achievement gaps for affected students had been significant and longstanding. Our efforts to close such gaps are ongoing. This year at the high school, we have implemented co-taught regents level courses at the ninth grade level to replace "core" level courses. So far we are observing promising shifts in discipline and attendance rates which we believe are reflective of high expectations and improved access for students to positive peer models, rich language and the presumption of student competence. Not only is this work aligned to the mission, vision, and beliefs held by the Guilderland School Community, it is consistent with the legal requirements set forth by the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDE), NYS Board of Regents policies and goals, and Part 200 of the Commissioner’s Regulations.
The District maintains full confidence in the skills and expertise of its instructional staff. Ongoing professional development opportunities will further develop practices which will best serve the needs of all learners. Additionally, when high-quality curriculum and instruction is provided to all students, the effect is to benefit all learners, including high-achieving, low-achieving, and those deemed “average’ or in the middle.
Q: In inclusive classrooms why are the "average"
students being left behind?
A: The academic and social benefits of inclusive education extend beyond just students with disabilities to impact those without disabilities as well (Baker, Wang, & Walberg, 1994; Cole, Waldron, & Majd, 2004; Fisher & Mayer, 2002; Fisher, Pumpian, & Sax, 1998; Freeman & Alkin, 2000; Fryxell & Kennedy, 1995; Hunt & Goetz, 1997; Kennedy, Shulka, & Fryxell, 1997; McDonnell, Mathot-Bucker, Thorson, & Fister, 2000; Petterson & Hittie, 2003; Sharpe, York, & Knight, 1994; Waldron & McLeskey, 1998).
Studies have revealed increased academic performance of
students without disabilities placed in inclusive classroom settings (TASH,
2009), and/or found achievement for students without disabilities to be
equal to or better academically when in inclusive settings (Salend & Duhaney,
1999). Research on this topic has shown that placing students with
disabilities in inclusive classrooms had no impact on the amount or
disruption of instruction time (Staub & Peck, 1995); which is an argument
commonly made against inclusive practices. In this achievement-based era of
educational accountability, schools must provide all
learners (most especially students with disabilities) opportunities to
academically advance. Inclusive education has proven to be a vehicle of such
equitable and positive outcomes.
For students without disabilities the results are equally as important. Students without disabilities were found to show a deeper level of acceptance for diversity when educated alongside students with disabilities (Fisher, Pumpian, & Sax 1998; Krajewski & Hyde, 2000;). Futhermore, research overwhelmingly demonstrates that achievement increases or stays the same for students without disabilities in inclusive classrooms (Causton-Theoharis & Theoharis, 2008; Theoharis & Causton-Theoharis, 2010; Hunt, Staub, Alwell, & Goetz, 1994; McDonnell et al., 2003; Odom, Deklyen, & Jenkins, 1984; Scruggs & Mastropieri, 1994). Systematic inclusive schooling that utilizes best practice is not only the most effective way to educate students with disabilities, but it leads to greater academic and social outcomes for students without disabilities as well.
The District believes that all students will benefit when access to in-class instructional supports is maximized. It is also our hope to change the mindset that students who struggle are detrimental to others. As much as we seek academic, behavioral, and social gains by remaining true to inclusive practices, we look forward to promoting empathy, compassion and tolerance as essential characteristics for all.
Q: Why have inclusive classrooms if extra staff
A: In past years, the district has increased staffing to support our students with disabilities based on those students' needs. We make all staffing decisions based on enrollment. and student need.
Q: Why do we have inclusive classrooms if
teachers are struggling to meet the needs of their classroom?
A: This has not been supported by observations or data. The district is committed to pursuing areas that are identified for further study, additional resources and/or professional development. It is, and always has been, a challenge to meet the diverse learning needs for our students. The district will continue to take steps to address such needs as they arise.
Inclusion is sometimes discussed as if it were a policy schools can decide to adopt or not. But special education is not a program or a place. Federal law governs that all students with disabilities have the legal right to be educated in the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) and cannot be removed from a general education classroom as matter of local practice or a district’s inability to meet a child’s needs (34C.F.R. 300.116 (b)(3)(e)). LRE essentially means that school districts must educate children with disabilities in the general education classroom to the maximum extent appropriate; must provide appropriate supplementary aids and services; and must educate children with disabilities alongside their nondisabled peers, in the school the child would attend if he or she did not have a disability (IDEA, 2004).
IDEA (2004) mandates that the school must provide the student with all of the necessary supports and services in the general education classroom before even considering a move to a more restrictive environment. Therefore, if a school can successfully educate a student with disabilities in general education settings with peers who do not have disabilities, the school must provide that inclusive experience.
FAQ relating to salaries and benefits
Q: Why don't you stop giving raises to your employees?
A. School district employees are covered by the New York
State Public Employees Fair Employment Act, more commonly known as the
Taylor Law. This law was enacted in 1967 and grants public employees the
right to organize (unionize) and requires employers to negotiate the terms
and conditions of their employment, including compensation. The Taylor Law
also prohibits public employees, including teachers and other school
personnel, from going on strike and failing to provide services.
Under the Taylor Law, the school district cannot unilaterally choose to withhold raises that were collectively bargained. During the past several years of significant reductions to education funding, several of Guilderland's bargaining units agreed to concessions that lowered wage increases or benefits to assist the district. The Board of Education is very mindful of settling contracts that reflect current economic conditions and yet attract and retain the high caliber of employees necessary to provide the quality of education residents and tax payers expect and deserve.
Q: Why not cut administrators
to save money?
A: In recent years, the Guilderland Central School District has cut several administrative positions to help balance the budget. Positions cut have included a house principal at Farnsworth Middle School, a special education administrator (district-wide), and a part-time assistant athletic director. Two administrative positions, including an art supervisor and elementary program administrator, were also reduced to part-time in recent years.
Q: Why is the district proposing to cut an OTA
[occupational therapy assistant] when you have an OTR [registered
occupational therapist] that is going to be a new hire?
A: Analysis of anticipated student need for occupational therapy indicates that the district can meet those needs with five FTE's, rather than six. (Historically, the district has used three licensed occupational therapists (OT's) and three certified occupational therapy assistants (COTA's) to meet the needs of K-12 students. The new hire in February was due to a resignation of a registered, licensed occupational therapist (OTR/L), which occurred this past January. We are afforded more flexibility with service delivery using licensed OT's than with COTA's. For example, only OTR/Ls are able to conduct evaluations and sign off on all Medicaid documentation. Therefore, maintaining the position of an OTR/L is critical to carry out essential functions throughout the district.)
Q: Why have honors
classes become so popular? Have regular Regents classes become not
A: Depending on the class and grade level, entrance into honors classes is determined by a selection process and teacher recommendation.
As for Regents classes, the curriculum is rigorous. However, acceptance into selective colleges can be competitive, and many students and parents see honors classes as a way to help in that process. The most important consideration for the selection of class levels should be that the student is challenged and capable of meeting the course requirements.
Are English as a New Language (ENL) classes
draining resources from the children whose parents pay taxes in the
A: Our ENL students enhance our classrooms in many ways. We have students from over 40 different countries within this district that offer our students and staff cultural opportunities and perspectives. In addition:
ENL services are mandated by the state.
• ENL services are partially funded through Title III grant funding in NYS.
• The only different service that ENL students receive is greater support in literacy--reading, writing, listening, speaking.
• We have many ENL families of students who live in homes that they either own or rent and therefore pay taxes.
• As a district, we provide resources for all students whether it be academic support (reading, math) as well as the special areas mentioned above.